True Christian Discipleship
Updated: Nov 18, 2022
In specific, a disciple is a personal follower of Jesus who followed Him during His lifetime. In general, the word disciple is a follower or student of a leader or teacher.
People follow Jesus for a variety of different reasons. Lots of people attend church to hear what God can do to make their lives happy. Some people gather with a local church looking for a pep-rally, a spiritual 5-hour-energy, or a motivational speech. The want their Jesus-jolt.
Certainly, Jesus does make a person’s life happy, and no doubt gathering with your church family can be truly inspirational, but it’s interesting that in John 6:30 the people there ask the Lord, and I paraphrase, “What miracle will you do today so that we will keep on following you?” OR “God, what do you have for me?”
People then and people now have conflated the cause with the effect. Many professing disciples are not interested in furthering the cause of Christ unless they’re experiencing their concept of religious effects. They have the metaphorical cart before the horse.
So many people are intrigued by the words of Jesus. They marvel at His works and miracles, but if He doesn’t provide a miracle for them on their timetable, they rapidly lose interest in Him.
Just as quickly as they come, they go. People find excuses to justify why they stop following Jesus or why they intermittently serve God. They say, “The church is full of hypocrites. The pastor is a hypocrite.” They complain that they don’t like the carpet or the pew color, or they express some other superficial dissatisfaction. Excuses abound as to why people are not interested in following Christ.
People so easily put themselves in the seat of the master and put God in the position of their servant. In today’s consumeristic Christianity, it’s “me” on the throne, and God is to fetch, cater and pamper me. Practically speaking, in their minds it’s my will first, and God’s will second. Yet, Mark 8 presents a different scenario. In this article, we will consider the content of Mark 8:27-38.
True Discipleship is seen in someone who is saved (vs 27-31), someone who fails (vs 32-33), and someone who surrenders (vs 34-38).
1. Someone Who’s Saved (vs 27-31)
Clearly, the gospel plan is referred to in verse 31. “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected… and be killed, and after three days rise again.“ (See also 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
Jesus’ identity is what’s discussed in the proceeding verses, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered and saith unto him, “Thou art the Christ.” (vs 29)
Peter spoke up on behalf of the disciples. They knew He was the Christ.
Matthew’s account of this conversation records Peter as saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.“ (Matthew 16:16)
Luke records Peter as describing Him as, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)
Clearly, Peter knew and believed that Jesus was the anointed One, that Jesus was God’s only begotten Son. Peter knew and believed that Jesus was not “John the Baptist,” but that Jesus was the One of whom John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
So, when did Peter begin to believe these things? When did Peter get saved? When was he converted to Christ or born again? The answer to that question is not completely clear in Scripture.
Contrastingly, the Apostle Paul’s conversion to Christ is very clear as recorded in
Acts 9: both clear and amazing!
But, when was the punctiliar moment that Peter trusted Christ and was saved?
Some say it was John 21, the “Do you love me?” account. Others say it was here in this Mark 8 declaration. (Also recorded in Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 9:22-27)
I personally believe that Peter was saved in John 1; when Peter’s brother Andrew brings him to Jesus. Andrew explained to Peter, “We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” (John 1:40-41)
In that moment, “Jesus beheld” Peter and said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.” (John 1:42)
That’s the day Peter met the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. That’s the day Peter met the One who would die as the substitute for his sin. I suggest, that was the day Peter got saved. That doesn’t mean that Peter understood everything about the gospel, or the full implications of the gospel, but neither did any of us on the day we got saved.
I’m suggesting, that day in John 1, that that is the day that Peter became a true disciple, a “disciple indeed.” (John 8:31-32)
2. Someone Who Fails (vs 32-33)
Secondly, a true disciple is seen in someone who fails. Salvation, or our justification, is definitely punctiliar. It takes place at a specific moment in time. You probably remember the specific day you got saved or many of the details that surround that wonderful day.
Justification is punctiliar: however, sanctification is a process. It’s the lifelong process of spiritual growth. It’s the process of more fully understanding the gospel and the implications of the gospel. It’s that which we get to see as we read about Peter’s life in the Bible. We get to see Peter’s pursuit of personal holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16, Lev. 11:44).
We benefit from, and often relate to the ups-and-downs of Peter’s spiritual mountains and valleys as recorded in the gospels, as well as in the book of Acts.
Throughout Peter’s sanctification process, throughout his time of, “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” we see Peter’s progression as well as his regression. We see Peter’s relatable struggles, his faults, and his failures.
And, here in Mark 8:32-33 is one of those times.
“And he spake that saying openly. (referring to vs 31) And Peter took him, (Jesus) and began to rebuke him. But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he (Jesus) rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.”
Rebuking Jesus is never a good idea. Yet, brash old Peter does it anyways. I suggest that in this moment, Peter’s motives were pure, but misguided. What Peter said to Jesus was very likely out of a heart of love and concern.
Matthew’s account helps us see Peter’s heart of love for Jesus. “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” (Matthew 16:22)
Yet, regardless of Peter’s intention, Jesus rightly rebuked Peter saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” (vs 33)
It is a STRONG rebuke! Jesus rebuked Peter because Peter is sounding like Satan. Matthew 4 records the temptation of Christ. What Peter says here in Mark 8, reminds Jesus of what Satan was offering in Matthew 4; a way to avoid the suffering, rejection, and death on the cross. This after Jesus just explained that “the Son of man must suffer many things…” (vs 31)
Jesus forcefully rebuked Peter because Peter was suggesting something that was clearly contrary to the will of God the Father.
Peter is suggesting that Jesus avoid the pain of the cross. With his words, Peter was suggesting that Jesus avoid the suffering, rejection and atoning death on the cross. Peter was, probably unwittingly, promoting one of Satan’s major agenda items. Peter, for just a moment, had become Satan’s spokesman.
We all relate to Peter’s failures; rebuking a situation that didn’t deserve a rebuke, speaking without fully thinking. As finite people, even Christians, we all say and do foolish things. As saved sinners, we’ve all had times where we’ve said things that promote the agenda of the world, our flesh, and even the devil. To be clear, we all have times of foolish failure and deep regret, yet we’re still saved. (Phil 1:6) We are still in God’s family. (Romans 8:14-17; 31-39)
That exchange of rebukes between Peter and Jesus prompted Jesus’ explanation of true discipleship. (vs 34-38)
True discipleship is seen in someone who’s saved, someone who fails, and consider this third concept.
3. Someone Who Surrenders (vs 34-37)
True discipleship is seen in someone who surrenders. Here, Christian discipleship is summed up in one verse, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (vs 34)
So, what does that mean practically? Verses 35-37 helpfully provide an illustrative definition of what is described in verse 34.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:35-37)
Many people will pursue a life of earthly profit, comfort, and ease. Many professing believers will follow after societal acceptance. They will seek to gain the things this “whole world” has to offer, but Jesus is explaining here that it’s not worth it. That life is futile, fleeting, and vain. It’s empty. I say again, it’s empty!
But, those who make verse 34 their heart’s motto, for the sake of Christ and the gospel, they have something worth living for! Better said, they know some One who’s worth living for!
As we consider this call of surrender let’s break down these three elements; deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ.
First, deny himself. What is described in these two words is the radical denunciation of self-idolatry, which is a problem for all of us. In ten-thousand ways every day, we make ourselves the center of the universe.
The instruction to “deny ourselves” is clearly a call to surrender, but it’s surrender for a specific cause. It’s deny yourself under the rubric of, “for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s.” (vs 35)
Not only is this instruction to “deny ourselves” a radical denunciation of self-idolatry, it’s also a caution against what I’m calling “others-idolatry.”
Sometimes we put others in an unhealthy place of prominence in our lives, and in those moments, we ARE denying ourselves, but it’s for their sake, and not for Christ’s sake. This is very common.
Christians will give themselves in service to others, but not necessarily with the gospel at heart. Instead, Christians will serve others for that individual’s sake, or for the sake of our own personal satisfaction. Denying ourselves for the sake of serving others can feel rewarding. Yes, you’re denying yourself, but with a misguided motive. This is a recipe for becoming weary in well-doing because you’re operating with the wrong fuel. Your energy will soon fade, and you’ll begin to spit and sputter spiritually.
Sometimes our love and service for others is disguised as godly self-denial but actually our motive is solely self-gratifying. Our relationships with others have the dangerous potential of becoming a higher priority to us than even our relationship with God. We can easily make an idol out of others.
Sometimes this is only realized when that loved-one dies. If we’ve lived for them, if we have denied ourselves for their sake, we can easily become bitter at God when they’re no longer in our lives. When this is the case, clearly, they had that loved-one in an unhealthy position of preeminence in their heart, and now that the loved-one is gone, whether by death or departure, they’re mad at God, because that loved-one was their god.
Deny yourself for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s. As we love and serve others, we love and serve them with a gospel motive, as an extension of Christ, for His honor and glory. People will come and go in our lives for a variety of reasons, but He “will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Christ ALONE is worthy to sit in that seat of pre-eminence in your heart. I use that word “worthy” deliberately.
Jesus made it clear in Matthew 10:37. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
He is first on our priority list. He alone is worthy.
Denying ourselves in a Mark 8 sense includes giving God our best: our first-fruits. Many professing Christians carnally prefer to give God leftovers instead of denying themselves in full surrender.
Malachi 1:6-11 records an account of God getting the people’s leftovers. They weren’t willing to give God their first fruits, or their best, instead they offered God “polluted bread.” (Malachi 1:7) They offered God blind, lame, and sick animals. They gave him their leftovers. (Malachi 1:8)
They essentially said, “God, here’s a one-eyed sheep and a three-legged goat and some moldy bread.”
They were not interested in denying themselves too much. Many people give the least they can of their time, talent, and treasure; giving just enough to scratch their religious itch. Their goal is just to feel good about themselves, instead of denying themselves wholly. Instead of giving themselves cheerfully and lavishly, they prefer partially and sparingly.
True Christian discipleship is surrender to the point of denying yourself for Christ’s sake. Remember Christian, “…ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)
Second, this type of surrender includes, “taking up his cross.”
Interestingly, when Jesus said this, it was before He went to the cross Himself. However, they all knew what Roman crucifixion was. They knew that the Romans had conceived the most brutal and horrible form of death ever known to humanity. They knew exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “take up your cross.” They were familiar with the scene of an individual who was sentenced to death. That person would be surrounded by a group of soldiers as he is walking towards the place of his own execution. While walking he is carrying part of the means of his execution across his shoulders. The crossbeam was a burden shouldered across his back.
When people saw that man, they realized that he was walking in one direction, and that he was not coming back. “Taking up your cross” was a one-way ticket. No returning ticket. It’s a one-way journey. It’s no turning back.
One commentator points out that Jesus is essentially saying to His disciples, “the pathway that I am going to walk is the pathway that you must be willing to walk. It is the pathway of the crucified Christ, who is also the conquering Christ. It is a pathway that goes down the road of suffering, rejection, and death, but also it’s a pathway that eventually leads to glory and crown.” (Consider Galatians 2:20)
Today, the cross signifies identification with Christ. The cross represents submission to the will of God the Father. It’s a symbol of love and sacrifice.
When you, “take up His cross,” in this life, you are saying with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
It’s up to you to make sure that the first part of the verse is true. Certainly the second part is true for the Christian. “To die is gain” because heaven awaits the redeemed, but is it true that for you “to live is Christ?” This is the surrender of denying yourself and taking up His cross.
Third, the surrender of true discipleship includes following Christ. (Mark 8:34)
We must remember that God doesn’t need us to follow Him. He instructs His disciples to follow Him, but He doesn’t need any of us. It’s our privilege to follow Him. It’s our “reasonable service" to follow Him. (Romans 12:1) The fact is, God doesn’t need us at all.
Don’t ever forget, God doesn’t need you.
If he needed you, or any of us, He wouldn’t be God. After all, it’s “In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), not the other way around.
Acts 17:24-25 explains, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
God doesn’t need you, but He wants you. God can do anything He wants, and He wants you. He proves His desire for us by sending His only begotten Son to the cross to make a way for sinners like us to have a relationship with Him, the perfect and holy God. He wants us, and He wants us to follow Him.
He doesn’t need us, but we desperately need Him. This is why we endeavor to faithfully follow Him. Because He is God, Lord, Master, and Father, and as Christians, we are His servants, slaves, subjects and privileged to be His children.
Even though God doesn’t need us, the world does need us. Part of following Christ is fishing for men (Matthew 4:19). When we’re following Christ, we are then the salt and
light He instructs us to be in the midst of an ever decaying and darkening society. (Matthew 5:13-16) When we’re following Christ, we are actively involved in obeying Matthew 28:19-20; the Christian’s great commission. God doesn’t need us, but the world needs us to be as the hymn writer said, “Channels Only.” The world needs every Christian disciple to be an ambassador in the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21).
Not only the world, but our church families need us. Our Christian brothers and sisters need us to follow Christ in such a way that we’re actively involved in the “one-anothers" described throughout Scripture.
One reason why we’re instructed not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together" is so that we “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) These are the responsibilities of those following Christ.
Further, each Christ-follower is entrusted with a stewardship of spiritual gifts that are specifically gifts to the church. Your local faith family needs to benefit from your spiritual gifting, and you need to benefit from theirs. (Consider Romans 12:3-10)
The Lord doesn’t need you, but the world needs you and your church family needs you.
Jesus teaches us a lot when He tells a believer to “deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
True discipleship is seen in someone who’s saved, someone who fails, and someone who surrenders. Peter models each of those three aspects well. He was saved. He failed. But ultimately, he surrendered. Read of Peter’s courage and Spirit-filled life in the book of Acts.
By way of conclusion, consider Mark 8:38, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus is saying, “If any disciple of mine is ashamed of Me now, I will be ashamed of him when he comes into the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
But, any disciple who is prepared to be unashamed now, there will be no shame of him when he comes into the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Essentially verse 38 is a contrast between shame and honor. Do you want honor now on this earth, and shame in heaven? Or do you want shame now as the world mocks, persecutes, and shames outspoken Christians, but then honor in heaven? In our existential society, most people want honor now! The choice is yours. The hymn writer explained his choice well.
Saviour, ’tis a full surrender,
All I leave to follow Thee;
Thou my leader and defender
From this hour shalt ever be.
As I come in deep contrition,
At this consecrated hour,
Hear, O Christ, my heart’s petition,
Let me feel the Spirit’s power.
No withholding full confession;
Pleasures, riches, all must flee;
Holy Spirit, take possession,
I no more, but Thou in me.
Be this theme my song and story,
Now and until life is o’er;
This my rapture, this my glory,
Till I reach the shining shore.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Oh, the peace of love divine!
Oh, the bliss of consecration -
I am His, and He is mine.
I surrender all!
I surrender all!
All I have I bring to Jesus;
I surrender all!
This is true Christian discipleship.
The above article was written by James C. Johnson. He is the Pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, find him on Twitter @JamesJohnsonSFL or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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